The Middle Distance 6.28.13: Hey Yawwwwwwl!

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Photo by Sean Cayton

A friend asked me yesterday what’s been in the news. She had not been paying attention. Let’s see, I said. More killing in Syria, more guns flowing in so even more will be killed. Edward Snowden is holed up somewhere in Moscow while the U.S. and Russia argue about extradition. Mmmmm … The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act and Prop 8 and gay marriage.

Oh, and Paula Deen has been exposed as a racist.

I read the news later that night and admittedly spent more time following links on the Paula Deen public relations fiasco than on the real, consequential news of the world. I couldn’t deny the slight rush of pleasure I experienced over her public embarrassment. Not because I was convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that she was an insensitive racist redneck based on information leaked from a videotaped deposition first leaked by the National Enquirer. But because from the first day I heard her say, “Hey y’aaaaaaaaaallllllll,” on Food Network, I didn’t like her.

She offended me with her deep-fried cornpone folksiness — anyone from the South knows that there are ugly southern accents and pretty southern accents and a world in between, but that made-for-TV accent was made up, pure parody. When I looked at her spidery, mascara-caked fake eyelashes and her capped white teeth, I saw a woman in desperate search of a self image. I cringed at her interpretation of southern food, broadcast to the world at large as gospel to the great shame of serious home cooks all over the South.

Like many successful performers, Paula developed a schtick that appealed to the lowest common denominator. Include a stick of butter and a cup of sugar in every recipe, and every American who is pissed off about being told what they can’t eat will flock to you like pigs in a poke.

The woman was not to be believed. She pitched a recipe for Krispy Kreme bread pudding that included a can of sweetened condensed milk, two cans of fruit cocktail, undrained, and two-dozen glazed doughnuts, not to mention butter-rum sauce that called for a whole box of confectioners sugar. Just thinking about it makes my teeth ache.
The richer and more ubiquitous and louder and more extreme Paula became, the more I cringed. She was a disaster waiting to happen.

Food Network should have taken a clue 18 months ago when Paula finally announced, three years after her diagnosis, that she had Type 2 diabetes, the announcement coinciding with her signing a lucrative endorsement contract for the diabetes drug Victoza. In a public statement, teary-eyed Paula explained to television viewers that she had waited so long to reveal her condition because she just didn’t understand it. She didn’t know exactly what it meant. And now that she knew what it meant, would she use her public platform to urge healthier eating? Well, not exactly. Team Paula Deen came up with a canny plan that would have her sons take on that role while she remained the queen of saturated fat, at least on the air.

Paula Deen is the perfect embodiment of having your cake and eating it too.

She may well be a racist and not know it, and maybe she’s not but just has a nasty habit of sticking her foot in her mouth or being rude. Maybe she treated employees badly in the past or maybe some of them are just mad that she got richer than God and they didn’t. Maybe I don’t like her public persona because I believe it is made up and insincere and maybe I don’t like it because I’m a snob who doesn’t like that it is so obscenely profitable while in such bad taste.

When all is said and done, Paula Deen will have lost a few celebrity endorsement contracts but she will still be a household name with legions of loyal fans. Why, I hear there will soon be a Paula Deen Museum in Albany, Georgia, her hometown, and I’m sure the team is busy cooking up plans for expansion into new arenas after this latest fiasco. Maybe a new show on cable TV, “Paula Does Soul Food,” with celebrity guests like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who will attest to her good, redeemed character.

If all else fails, there’s an irresistible trinket for sale on her web site that should skyrocket in sales in coming weeks — a shiny, rhinestone encrusted ‘Hey Y’all!’ keychain. At $19.95, it’s a real steal.

Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.


21 Responses to The Middle Distance 6.28.13: Hey Yawwwwwl!

  1. Nancy Wilsted says:

    Tammy Faye with cooking utensils and hyperglycemia…

  2. Mark Mann says:

    Ms Eastburn, I suspect you don’t like Paula Deen because you are a snob (as you suggest) and you somehow put yourself, along with your minimal writing skills in much loftier place than her southern “schtick”. I read you dribble from time to time and never have rationalized just why KRCC continues to carry you as a guest contributor. Please spare us from you attempts to enlighten the unseeing.

  3. Anne Lennox says:

    Y’all are on a roll, Kathryn. Great column. BTW do you have that Krispy Kreme recipe????

  4. Sandra Knauf says:

    Great article; the Tammy Faye analogy is a very good one. I also wonder if it’s a Southern thing to cry publicly and say your heart is broken/you didn’t understand? I think next she’ll be crying and asking for forgiveness like Jimmy Swaggart. After (or maybe before) she is overcome, collapses, and has to be rushed to the hospital.(Sorry if that sounds mean–I don’t personally know her work, and maybe this is a witch hunt, but I did see a clip of her on Matt Lauer this week, crying, and she seemed phony as heck.)

  5. Nancy Smith says:

    I will agree with you on two points, Kathryn. She is a phony, and she deserves every bit of what she is getting now. With that said, I found your article to be condescending and mean spirited. I am by no means a Paula Deen supporter, but the way you lay into her is way over the top. I expected much more from an otherwise classy lady such as yourself. This is just low. I don’t think I’m going to read TMD any longer. You’ve left a bitter taste in my mouth, at least as bitter as Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding.

  6. elpage says:

    When she said, “I is what I is”, that iced it for me. WHAT IS THAT?!

    • kathryn says:

      I believe that comes from Popeye the Sailor Man, except Popeye said, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam,” along with “That’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more.” — KCE

  7. Mark Mann says:

    I posted a response to Ms. Eastburn’s essay earlier today that was included with the other comments for a while. I now see 5 very complimentary posts. My post was decidedly less than complimentary, and now; low and behold, it is no longer on the site………… I expected more from KRCC editorial staff.

    • Noel Black says:

      Mark, your comment wasn’t approved because you’re not a regular commenter and the system holds those posts for approval. Sorry it took a minute to get to it. We’re by no means opposed to civilized dissent.

  8. Mark Mann says:

    Noel, thanks very much for your reply. I was glad to see my original post, and honestly felt a little awkward with my follow on post upon seeing that the original showed up. KRCC is a class act and a real asset to the community.
    Thanks for all you do to keep it going.

  9. CEK says:

    Thank you for articulating in a logical fashion my scattered thoughts about Paula Dean. From a fellow “snob”.

  10. Karen says:

    I’m not a snob. You could have kept your comments to yourself. This is the first one of your shows I did not enjoy. Lets build each other up. I hate when women trash one another. I am a Paula Dean fan and I am also a fan of yours.

  11. Sandra Knauf says:

    I had to revisit this. I just heard that Jimmy Carter’s a friend of Paula Deen and said she should be forgiven. That’s good enough for me. I’m repentant.

  12. Mary Ellen Davis says:

    Who is entitled to criticize? I buy it if Kathryn is unabashedly critical of Ms. Dean, because Kathryn claims, relishes in, and shares her southern heritage and ESPECIALLY THE COOKING. Her opinion rings true to me.

  13. Joyce Wolf says:

    First of all I have never watched a Paula Deen cooking show or bought a cook book, my exposure to her personality and cooking skills are minimal. That said, as a woman born and raised in the South like yourself, I found the on air tirade offensive both as a woman and a transplanted Southerner. It is puzzling as to why you felt compelled to spend your talents focusing such a nasty segment on what appears to be a personal issue. It is truly sad that Ms. Deen has such prominence in your life to warrant such attention.

  14. Jennifer Newman says:

    Nicely put, Mary Ellen! Also, TMD is an OpEd, is it not? I like hearing your opinions, Kathryn. It’s fun to see you kick this hornet’s nest!

  15. Mike says:

    I think that.. um.. hey, is that Diana Krall show sold out yet?

  16. Liz Arnold says:

    Hey Y’all! This dialog is awesome! It highlights the differences in us all, and sparks that good old controversy that makes our world so interesting! Shame on you who read one article that doesn’t ring true and vow to “never read again”! Come on! Open your mind to other ideas and perspectives and keep on looking at both sides of the story. Kathryn, thanks for giving your perspective on this breaking news flash. I can’t think of anyone more qualified to write about southern cooking than you – a southerner who cooks amazing, healthy southern food! I can attest to that!

  17. Nancy Wilsted says:

    For all of us, there’s some truth to the “I is what I is”. If only Paula Dean would have used her statement to launch a more genuine and worthy conversation about prejudice and racism.

  18. Ellen Troyer says:

    Major Kudos Kathryn. Paula Deen is a very rich media invention that has dramatically affected public health and government health care costs. The recently reported 2012 costs of diagnosed diabetes in the United States was $245 billion. 25.8 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes and 79 million more are diagnosed prediabetes. Given the taxpayer and government cost for this growing public health issue, I’m wondering how long it will take the public to get smart enough to demand taxing junk food and the media and industry that contribute to this major public health issue, just as they did with cigarettes and the media that supported smoking. Thanks again for daring to speak out about Paula Deen and the audience her persona was created for. .


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